One of the most effective ways to protect yourself online is through the use of a virtual private network, or VPN.
Around the world, VPNs are used by individuals and businesses looking to protect their digital information and conceal their internet presence. In countries where internet rights are stifled, some risk their freedom and livelihood by using VPNs to access websites that are banned by state-run powers. Disinformation around VPNs and their use is widespread, with a range of myths, misconceptions, and untruths clouding the public’s idea of what a VPN does and the protections it can offer.
The ultimate goal for many who use a VPN is to rest easy knowing the virtual transmission of sensitive company or personal data is done so safely and securely.
In a survey of over 1,000 people, we tested participants on their knowledge about VPNs. People were asked to identify, to the best of their knowledge, whether statements about VPNs were true or false. Learn which widely accepted beliefs about VPNs are total myths and how many people believe them.
Popular Viewpoints on VPNs
Global enterprise is possible today due to the vast series of networks that connect us with people all around the world, with many businesses opting to use a variety of methods to link together. When it comes to VPN diversity, 90% of survey participants correctly identified the myth that VPNs are all the same, which they are not. There are different types according to your connectivity needs and demands.
Whether you use VPNs for business or individual protections, it’s key to know the technology’s capabilities and recognize fallacies. The primary characteristics of a VPN are data encryption and IP concealment. Around 1 in 4 respondents couldn’t confirm a basic statement about a VPN’s job — encrypting data and hiding IP addresses — and more than one-third incorrectly said that VPNs could render someone completely invisible and anonymous online.
Encryption is a big selling feature for VPNs, but third parties are still responsible for their own encryption. This means that the content of your traffic may still be vulnerable, necessitating users to pay close attention to their digital safety. Luckily, 91% of people surveyed knew that digital protections don’t start and end with setting up a VPN.
Thirty-five percent of people thought you have to pay for a VPN to seize the benefits of a private network, but there are free ones available. Free products, however, might be prone to malware and could present more of a risk in how they share data.
Unfortunately, many of the companies that offer VPN encryption services maintain appearances while questionable behavior occurs under the surface. A study of nearly 300 Android VPN apps found that nearly 40% injected malware; even worse, 18% of those apps had no encryption capabilities whatsoever.
How Informed Are VPN Advocates?
Staying informed about VPNs is the only way to truly understand how your data is traveling throughout the internet, especially as a current VPN user: 31% of VPN users incorrectly believed that VPNs could make you totally anonymous online. However, there is no real way to be completely anonymous online yet, so people should be wary of those who make big promises.
Most of the time, VPN users were more informed than nonusers. However, nonusers were more likely to identify the myths of VPNs making internet connections slower, all VPNs being the same, and not needing to take other safety precautions online if using a VPN than people who had experience with VPNs.
Privacy Concerns Are the Top Reasons for Using a VPN
The top reason people elected to use a VPN was to boost security. Among survey respondents who had used a VPN, 47% wanted to increase overall online privacy, 43% wanted more privacy was browsing, 40% didn’t feel fully confident in public Wi-Fi, and 32% desired encrypted communications.
Men and millennials were the most likely to use a VPN. Sixty-three percent of men and 54% of millennials reported being VPN users. This could possibly be linked to the gender gap in tech use and involvement that encompasses VPNs as well. While some efforts to bring women into the industry have been successful, others have done more harm than good: Some VPN companies have even tried to pander to female tech enthusiasts by insinuating they are ill-informed.
VPNs and Age: How Do Concerns Change by Generation?
Different concerns took priority based on generation. For instance, baby boomers were less concerned about geo-blocking restrictions and hiding internet history than younger generations. However, they were far more concerned with increasing overall privacy and protecting themselves from a data breach.
On the other hand, younger generations were more likely to use a VPN when downloading files through peer-to-peer platforms. Torrenting, while not illegal in itself, is still a gray area, as some things can be shared online while others cannot. A VPN can, in part, conceal someone’s activities while using a torrenting service. Since many of the shared files that “leechers” and “seeders” exchange are derived illegally or contain illegal content, a VPN can help protect someone if copyrighted content is accidentally downloaded.
Additionally, millennial VPN users were much more likely than older users to use VPNs to get around geo-blocking. VPNs allow users to bypass a geographical limit on content like sports games and TV programming.
The Verdict on VPNs
Setting up a VPN alongside your current internet safety arsenal enables you to stay encrypted in an increasingly visible and connected world.
In the U.S., VPNs are legal as long as the user’s internet activity doesn’t break the law or violate the terms of service of websites they’re using. Make sure that you stay informed about the myths surrounding VPNs to maintain online data security.
Thinking about taking the plunge and investing in your own online security? Having difficulties seeing through the haze of hundreds of VPN options out there? Are you not even sure where to start? At The Best VPN, we’re dedicated to producing the most unbiased and informative VPN reviews and comparisons on the web.
We surveyed 1,005 people on their knowledge of virtual private networks and general online safety. Respondents were 47% men and 53% women. The average age of respondents was 38 with a standard deviation of 12.
Respondents were asked to identify, to the best of their knowledge, statements about VPNs that were true or false. If they did not know, they were instructed to put their best guess.
Respondents were asked to identify what generation they fall into based on their birthdate. They were given the following options:
- Greatest generation (born 1927 or earlier)
- Silent generation (born 1928 to 1945)
- Baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964)
- Generation X (born 1965 to 1980)
- Millennials (born 1981 to 1997)
- Generation Z (born 1998 to 2017)
The greatest generation, silent generation, and Generation Z were excluded from our final visualization of the data due to low sample sizes in those groups.
The data presented here are based on self-reporting. Common issues with self-reported data include exaggeration, telescoping, and selective memory. Additionally, due to the online nature of the survey, it’s possible that respondents may have “cheated” on the true/false portion related to myths and misconceptions, skewing the data.
Fair Use Statement
VPNs can be useful for ensuring added privacy while online, but we know that new technology can be overwhelming for some. If someone you know would benefit from the information we presented here, you’re free to this project for any noncommercial reuse. We just ask that you link back here so that they can see the entire study and review the methodology. This also gives credit to our contributors for their work.